중앙데일리

Briquette artist turns trash into treasure

Mar 24,2016
One briquette bears the statement, “It’s OK! Spring will come again.”

These used charcoal briquettes, decorated with faces and other designs, elicit smiles from passersby. Rim Min, 38, brings splashes of color to the streets with decorated briquettes placed side by side.

The artist does his work in Suam-gol in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, a poor shantytown on the hillside along the western side of Mount Uam (1,158 feet). The village was built during the 1950-53 Korean War by people displaced by the war. Now only about 60 households consisting of older citizens in their 70s and 80s live there.

Also, the place is popular these days after being used as the backdrop for TV series such as “Cain and Abel” (2009) and “The King of Baking: Kim Tak-gu” (2010).

Briquettes are adorned with positive messages to encourage passersby.
Walking in the village, one passes murals on the shabby-looking walls. And if one continues walking, the colorful briquettes can be spotted one by one.

Then, there is Rim’s residence as well as his studio at the end of an alley. It is a small place of about 11 square meters (118 square feet). There are layers of used coal briquettes piled up in his studio, waiting to be decorated.

Rim was not a professional artist before, just making graffiti with his friends. Then, he colored in a painting of angel wings on a wall as his first artwork at Suam-gol.

After he finished high school by taking the qualification exam for high school graduation, he could not pursue further education in art. So he watched YouTube clips of worldwide artists. It was his way to put effort in improving his art skills.

Rim was born in Eumseong, North Chungcheong, but he went to Seoul to make a living. But it was a difficult life, moving from place to place and writing novels for his web magazine. As he could not afford to live elsewhere any longer, he moved to Suam-gol, which gave him the opportunity to dream big as a briquette artist.

1,200 briquettes form the shape of a Christmas tree, which is 3 meters (9.8 feet) high. At the top of the tree, a stereo plays music, and light bulbs enhance the mood.
Originally, he began as a mural painter, so he himself had no idea he would become a briquette artist until May 2012. It was when he sketched a phrase on a used briquette in front of an elderly neighbor’s house.

He wrote, “Did you sleep well last night?” Then he noticed that the neighbor kept the special briquette. She liked it a lot. Through this experience, the artist realized that drawing could be a way of communication. He began to focus on briquette art.

He feels that there is nothing either useless or vain. With this in mind, he is trying hard to make his works more permanent and increase the level of durability.

He uses a unique hardener and applies many coats on the surface of the briquette. The process takes more than two days. Since the works are displayed outside, the art works should not be easily shattered.

He frequently draws faces with various kinds of facial expressions. It is a delicate job as the subtle change of the eyes makes a whole new different emotion. The location of eyes or the thickness of the lips affects the expression of the character. For Rim, it took a year to gain proficiency in drawing faces.

A mural on the wall in Suam-gol in Cheongju, North Chungcheong. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Last year, Rim registered a copyright for his briquette artworks as “briquette characters” at the Korea Copyright Commission.

Art sometimes enlightens us by breaking preconceptions. The used, old briquette was a mere piece of trash that has been forgotten about. But as it was transformed into an artwork, it became a treasure that seems to need protection and care.

Rim’s works are also significant in relation to sustainability and conservation of nature. If it were not for Rim, then the briquette would have been thrown away. Thus, it is meaningful.

As spring has come again, an exhibition tour of Rim’s art will start up a gain, following the last year’s nationwide tour. His goal is to present happiness to people with his art.

“The useless briquette has been transformed into a piece of art,” Rim said with a big smile. “I hope that my works could serve as a symbol of hope. Then I would be satisfied.”

May his positive messages bring comfort to many people along with his smile.


BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]







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